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Chef Jernard Wells on ‘New Soul Kitchen,’ writing cookbooks and cooking with family

Photo courtesy of Mike Worldwide

For Chef Jernard Wells, cooking runs deep into his soul. 

His father was a chef with a specialty in Creole cuisine and his mother became a pastry chef after spending several years as a nurse. From a young age, Wells was always in the kitchen with his mom and dad.

“Spending that time with them as a child in the kitchen growing up, it was so much fun for me because they weren’t afraid to allow me to come in the kitchen and create with them and pick from our garden,” said Wells. “I didn’t choose food, food chose me.”

Wells describes his own journey with cooking as a melting pot, with his father having Indian heritage and his great grandfather having African American and Irish ancestry. Wells started his very first restaurant at the age of 16 cooking food out of his mother’s kitchen, infusing the flavors that he was surrounded by growing up.

“I started selling food out of my mom’s kitchen. By the end of the summer, I made enough to buy and car, and what I did was instead of going to hang out, which is what I wanted the car for, I started delivering throughout the neighborhood,” said Wells.

Wells’ passion for cooking led him to the Memphis Culinary Academy where he majored in French and Cajun cuisine, inspired by his food experiences growing up.  With his background combined with his southern roots and further studies, Wells was able to expand his skillset and infuse a variety of different flavors into his cooking.

“I took time traveling around the world and I studied Asian cuisine, Malaysian cuisine, Filipino cuisine, and I think over the course of the years my mind became a big melting pot and a fusion of these different dishes,” said Wells. “Now, of course, growing up in the south, I have naturally inherited the southern staples, then when I went to culinary school, my parent’s influential ways and styles of cooking formed its own unique ways of cooking.”

Wells always knew that he wanted to be a household name. After finishing culinary school, he won a competition at Resorts Casino that inspired him to write his first cookbook: “88 Ways To Her Heart: “Cooking For Lovers” From The Kitchen To The Bedroom.” The chef had earned the nickname “The Chef of Love” early on in his career, so writing a love-based cookbook fit for him.

After his first book was published, Paula Deen’s team reached out to Wells and asked if he would be a sous chef on her tour. It was this time on the tour that the need to entertain was ignited in Wells.

“She let me be in the cooking segment while she entertained. When she tasted the food, she loved it and the crowd went crazy,” said Wells. “I instantly got bit by the entertainment bug.”

Wells says that after his time touring with Deen, he started getting calls from Food Network. He appeared on a handful of cooking competitions, including “Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell,” “Cutthroat Kitchen,” and “Food Network Star.” He also became a contributor on “Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Cooking Channel.

“During the course of this time in my career, the founder of TV one Cathy Hughes, who also owns Cleo TV, became a mentor and unbeknownst to me she was grooming me for a show that they were creating on this new network,” said Wells. “Once they launched the network several years ago, I was one of the first chefs that Cleo TV and Powerhouse Productions tapped to flagship a new show called ‘New Soul Kitchen.'”

According to Wells, “New Soul Kitchen” captures the creativity that comes with American cooking. The show just premiered its third season on Cleo TV and consistently has high ratings on the network.

“Lo and behold, I am blessed that the show has maintained the number one spot on the network since its inception,” said Wells.

With a successful TV show, cookbooks and even a James Beard House honor under his belt, you can still find Wells hanging out at home cooking with his wife and children, earning himself the new title of the Family Chef. The one thing you can always count on Wells making with his kids is grilled cheese, which is considered a rite of passage for his family, and he recently competed in a grilled cheese competition against kid-Chef Julian Frederick in a series of Slow Food Live in partnership with Truly Grass Fed products.

As a father of 9, Wells wanted to instill the same love of cooking in them that he got from his mom and dad as a kid.

“Everyone has a family in some sort of fashion, where it is immediate or friends, but the family embodies everything, happy times. My philosophy is the kitchen is the heart of the house. This is where it all begins,” said Wells. “My father and mother would bring me into the kitchen and I discovered it was therapeutic, I was opening up and having conversations with them while cooking and using my hands. That’s what I implement on my children because they all love to cook as well. And so it was only fitting that t Chef of Love grew into the Family Chef.”

For those who are looking to get into the cooking game, Wells says that endurance is absolutely key to your success.

“Regardless of what life throws at you, it’s always going to throw a curveball at you, but you never want to stop. The race is not always won but the quickest or fastest, but it is won by those who continue to keep going,” said Wells. “What I want those who come from behind to know is that you’re not in a competition with anyone but yourself. Don’t worry about who else, what else someone else is doing. You continue to stay your course.”

To stay up to date on the latest from Wells, follow him on Instagram @chefjernard. Check out one of his recipes below!

Chef Jernard’s Holiday Breadcrumb Dressing

Serves 6-8

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

   5 cups of Bread crumb or stuffing mix

   1 cup of cooked shredded Turkey or Chicken

   8 tablespoons Truly Grass Fed butter 

   1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped

   1 Green Bell Peppers diced

   3 stalks celery, chopped

   4 tablespoons of dried sage

   3 tablespoons of rosemary

   3 tablespoons of poultry seasoning 

   1 tablespoon kosher salt

   3 tablespoons black pepper

   1 can Cream of Chicken soup

   1 egg lightly beaten

   1 cup chicken broth

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large pan. Add celery, bell peppers and onion and Saute until soft about 3-5 minutes
  3. Add sage, Rosemary, Poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper to mixture.
  4. In a large bowl combine Stuffing mix/bread crumb.
  5. In same bread crumb bowl, Whisk together Cream of Chicken 1 egg, 5 tablespoons of melted butter. Stir in 1 cup of chicken broth and add shredded Turkey or chicken.
  6. Add Bell pepper, Celery & onion mixture to bowl. Mixture should be very moist. Add more broth if necessary.
  7. Transfer to a greased baking dish.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes, or until it turns light brown on top. Serve with Cranberry Sauce.

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